Mastering Procrastination

Everyone procrastinates in some way or another. It is natural, but sometimes it can get in the way of us achieving our goals.

However, with practice, you can master procrastination and prevent it from derailing your success.

The Institute for Advanced Analytics provides many opportunities to learn expert-level time management skills. Balancing multiple team projects and a full courseload will teach you to leave your old procrastination habits behind. As someone juggling multiple side projects and graduate school, researching practical methods to manage my time effectively was especially interesting. I study the psychology of positive thinking and motivation extensively. This article provides readers with actionable ways to apply the research I have gathered.   

Do any of the following scenarios occur to you regularly because of procrastination? 

  • Realizing you didn’t allow enough time to finish a task by the deadline. 
  • Feeling unprepared for meetings. 
  • Hiding task avoidance from your team. 
  • Producing low-quality work.
  • Waiting to feel motivated to do a task. 
  • Finding ways to waste time instead of working. 
  • Waiting until the night before the deadline to complete a task. 

If you answered yes to any of these, this article is worth a read. 

What Causes Procrastination? 

Fear that something will be unpleasant. 

When we think about working on a project, our minds often focus on the most unpleasant parts of it. If we imagine coding, we may think about all the errors we will get and the frustration we will feel. When we think about team projects, we tend to think about the challenging teammate. The more we think about the negative aspects, the less motivation we will have to work on doing what needs to be done.

Fear of performing badly. 

We rarely know how projects will turn out. That uncertainty causes fear of making mistakes. 

The fear of disappointing ourselves or others can prevent us from getting started. 

Rationalizing procrastination. 

Sometimes we convince ourselves we will work harder in the future. We justify procrastination. There are times when thoughts like this are true, for example, sometimes taking a break is super beneficial. However, these rationalizations often cause us to avoid unpleasant work. 

Negative reinforcement. 

Whenever we delay strenuous tasks, we experience relief. That relief is very rewarding to us. This causes procrastination habits to be reinforced. Positive reinforcement occurs when doing something we like reinforces the action. For example, winning a game makes us likely to play again. Procrastination can be difficult to overcome because avoiding work causes us to temporarily relax (Gillihan, 2018).

Strategies for Mastering Procrastination 

Understanding what causes procrastination teaches us how to master it. Because there are many factors that lead to procrastination, we need a wide array of tools to overcome it. 

Reframe your mindset.

Much of our procrastination comes from how we think about the task and about our willingness and ability to complete it. Strategic changes in our thinking can weaken procrastination’s pull. 

Notice thoughts that downplay the truth. 

Be mindful of things you tell yourself to rationalize procrastination. We often downplay the amount of time we will spend doing something other than the hard task like playing video games or seeing friends. 

Remind yourself of the consequences. 

Putting things off can lead to being late or producing poor-quality work, and it distorts your free time with feelings of dread about the task you are avoiding. Remind yourself of the consequences when you need more motivation to be more productive.

Watch out for actions that justify procrastination. 

When we feel motivated to avoid a task, we often find other ways to feel productive: cleaning the house, helping a friend, reading a book, making plans, etc. These actions rationalize procrastination quite effectively.

Decide to start. 

You will find a way once you get started. We might assume we will start a task once we feel like it. Truthfully, we won’t want to do it later either. Stop waiting for the “right time” to get started and just do it.

Actions that Reduce Procrastination 

Some simple changes in our actions can greatly improve productivity. 

External reminders. 

Boost your odds of getting started by making it impossible to ignore. Set an alarm, use a planner, write it on a whiteboard, or place things around the house where you will see them when you need to.

Create a focus zone. 

It is hard to procrastinate when distractions are out of sight. Put your phone in another room, minimize the tabs on your browser, and remove any other notorious distractors. It is natural to distract yourself when feeling anxious about working on hard tasks. 

Use a calendar. 

Setting aside time to do hard tasks makes you more likely to complete them. Put anything you intend to do on your calendar. Stick to that time, otherwise, you just lied to yourself. If you miss the task because something more important came up, reschedule it.

Break down a big project into small sections. 

Organizing complex tasks can make it much easier to get started. Make the steps as small as necessary. Give each section a deadline to keep yourself on track.

Use the Pomodoro Technique.

Try the Pomodoro Technique where you do focused work for 25-minute sessions and take short breaks between sessions. All you need to do is set an alarm (Cirillo, 2017).

Reward yourself.

Use rewards to overcome the negative reinforcement of procrastination. Studies show that giving ourselves conditional incentives significantly increases desired actions (Bonner, Sprinkle, 2017).

Work with others.

Social psychology is extremely powerful. Being around other people hard at work can inspire you to “follow the crowd.” 

Be Present and Accept Reality

Accept discomfort. 

We tend to treat discomfort as a reason to procrastinate. Remember, all growth occurs outside of your comfort zone. Embrace discomfort as an opportunity to grow. 

Be present. 

The fear of doing badly at something is based on predicting the future. By focusing on the present, worries about our performance slip away. This allows us to put energy toward whatever is right in front of us instead of worrying.

Write a To-Do List that Minimizes Procrastination

  • Have a single list. Multiple lists are confusing. Create a master list and put it somewhere you will see it — like right next to your bed. 
  • Put tasks and events in your calendar for specific times. We are more likely to do something if we commit ourselves to it in our schedule. 
  • Remove items you know you will never get to. Save yourself from guilt by deleting those tasks. This will also keep your list tidy.
  • Update your list regularly. Rewrite your list after you have checked off and added new things to it. It may seem tedious, but it pays off. 
  • Prioritize. Tackle high-priority tasks first, then you can relax when approaching less important ones.


Procrastination is not something you have to live with. You can manage your time and even motivate yourself to work on hard tasks via minor habit adjustments. It takes practice and time, but if you start implementing the suggestions in this article, you will master procrastination no matter where you work or go to school. The key is to just get started. 

Works Cited

Gillihan, S. J. (2018). Cognitive behavioral therapy made simple: 10 strategies for managing anxiety, depression, anger, panic, and worry. Althea Press. 

Cirillo, F. (2017). The Pomodoro® Technique. Cirillo Company. from

Bonner, S., & Sprinkle, G. (2001). The effects of monetary incentives on effort and task performance. from

Columnist: Wyatt Freeman